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Harvest birdhouse gourds in the fall when the skin hardens and the stem turns brown. -
Harvest birdhouse gourds in the fall when the skin hardens and the stem turns brown. - (Ellen Nibali/HANDOUT)

When do I harvest my birdhouse gourds and how do I do it?

Harvest them when they are full-size, the skin is hardened, and the stem attached to the fruit turns brown. These thick-skinned gourds can take light frost.

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Cut off the vine with a sharp knife, leaving about 2” of stem. Wipe off soil and moisture. They can bruise, so handle carefully. Store for a few months in a cool dry place. Any mold that appears can be scraped off.

If a gourd turns mushy, toss in your compost or brush pile. They are cured when they become lightweight, harder, light brown and the seeds rattle when shaken.

I live downtown and have planted mandevillas in my backyard. Can I overwinter them the same way I do my banana plants? In the fall, I cut down the banana plants, cover with a foot of mulch, then plastic. Would the same work with mandevillas?

Regardless of how much mulch you use, the tropical mandevilla should not over-winter outdoors.

If you want to preserve your plant, cut it as little as possible, pot it up if it’s been in the ground and store before a killing frost. Bring indoors when indoor and outdoor temperatures are similar. Store the plant in the basement or garage for the winter.

When you move it outside in spring, it won’t look perky. Spring is the time to cut it back. Replant it in the ground or keep in its container. Start fertilizing and watering, and it should recover.

Of course, you can always experiment with your plant. Since you are in the city, perhaps you can find a micro-climate (sunny sheltered spot) that escapes heavy frost.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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